Difficult to visit Panama without going to see the famous Panama Canal. Although this visit did not excite me too much, I decided to devote the morning of our 11th day to Panama Canal. I will add to this visit (for more nature and pleasure) the discovery of the surroundings of the Panama Canal including the beautiful National Park of Soberania, Gamboa and Lake Gatun.
1 day around the Panama Canal
- 8:00 am: Visit of the Panama Canal to the Miraflores Lock
- 10.30am: Soberania National Park
- 15h00: Visit of Gamboa and the surroundings of Lake Gatun
Panama canal tour – Itinerary map
How to go to the Panama Canal?
To get to the locks of Miraflores, take Line 1 of the Metro and get off at the last station. It is connected by an overhead gateway to the bus terminal. In this bus station, we must identify the white and orange buses: these are the metro-buses. There is a Miraflores direction that can be taken for the price of a metro ride.
As we took advantage of the services of Juan, our private driver (firstname.lastname@example.org), we preferred to drive there to discover the Panama Canal.
By car, we go through Balboa along the old US military zone and we discover the headquarters of the administrations of the Panama Canal. Juan explains that a large part of this area totally under American control was even banned from access to Panamanians. We also pass in front of the French cemetery. This cemetery is virtual because it was established in memory of the thousands of French workers who died in the Panama Canal during its construction.
How to visit the Panama Canal?
There are 3 locks on the Panama Canal (a fourth is under construction), two of which are open to the public. This is the Gatun Lock and the Miraflores Lock which is the most touristy. It is at the Miraflores lock that we surrender.
We left early in the morning to be at 8am at the opening (it is between 8am and 10am or after 15h that spend the big ships).
It is accessed by entering the visitor center. There, I advise you to go directly to the 4th floor to see the big cargo ships that pass one of the most famous channels in the world that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. We like to watch these huge ships go through the locks with a sound record that tells you everything you need to know about this incredible feat of engineering. Then you can watch a movie and visit the museum devoted to the canal and its construction. Entrance costs 20 USD and the visit takes about 2 hours.
What to see around the Panama Canal?
Although visiting the Panama Canal has been interesting, I must admit that I found the second part of the day much more exciting! Indeed, Soberania National Park and Lake Gatun, the two main places of interest around the Panama Canal, have really pleased me and meet my desires of nature.
What to see near the Panama Canal – Soberania National Park
A true rainforest only 25 km from the center of Panama City, this park has 22,000 hectares of protected areas and allows easy immersion in a lush and wild environment.
The forest is home to 525 bird species and offers an observation trail in search of certain species such as geocoucous, trogons or cayenne cotingas.
I advise you to go directly to the observation tower that allows you to climb 40 m high to overlook the canopy and admire tropical birds. Then you have to take all your time to follow the trail and listen to the animals trying to blend in this beautiful scenery.
Perhaps it was exceptional but it seemed to us that we were the only 2 tourists in the park. Indeed, during our 3h30 walk and observation, we crossed only animals and yet we had not privatized the park! I must say that we let ourselves be charmed by hummingbirds and did not see the time pass …
Being patient and very quiet, we can meet coatis, howler monkeys, Capuchin and lazy monkeys. The entrance is 20 USD.
What to see near the Panama Canal – Lake Gatun
Gatun Lake is an artificial lake created for the construction of the Gatun Dam on the Chagres River. This dam was itself built for the construction of the Canal.
Forming a channel between the islands, this lake is also used as a reservoir to supply water to the canal locks. Seasonality of precipitation makes the presence of the lake mandatory as a reservoir.
The lake, the islets, the tropical forests and mangroves make this environment a place that I found exceptional. The panorama is very beautiful as much as the fauna and flora of this environment far from mass tourism.
Theme trips such as the “ecological day tour” combining rainforest discovery by cable car and boat ride on Lake Gatun are offered at the hotel “Gamboa Rainforest Resort” (see below).
Best hotel near the Panama Canal
Here is my good plan for staying in an exceptional environment to enjoy the forest, rivers and the gigantic lake Gatun: the hotel Gamboa Rainforest Resort. For 100 Euros per night, you are in a 5 * hotel with an area of 100 hectares of rainforest on Gamboa.
I really loved this hotel with its 50s decor and simply beautiful surroundings and incredibly exotic!
View from the hotel Gamboa terrace :
If you are looking for a cheaper hotel do not hesitate to take a look at